In early 2013, I experienced one of the finest moments in my gaming life. After months of practice, I finally won a Super Bowl against 31 other live players. Even those competitive players who don't play Madden can probably relate to the satisfaction of years of hard work and practice finally paying off, whether it's in winning a tournament in Street Fighter, or ascending the rankings in Overwatch.
At their best, competitive games can foster amazing communities, as well as a deeper appreciation of how games work. My stints with Madden, Pokemon, and WarCraft 3 all had a lasting impact on my outlook on video games. Things change though. Online play has made competitive communities more accessible than ever, but in turn has made it much harder to reach the top tier of play. Practice has increasingly felt like a giant time sink; a treadmill that has me going through the same repetitive motions without end. At its best, it can be relaxing. At its worst, it can make me painfully aware of my own mortality.
This has started to affect my personal preferences when it comes to games. These days I'm never happier than when I'm tooling around in a game's world and fulfilling personal objectives that have little to do with the overarching plot. In Witcher 3, I obsessed over getting Mastercrafted Feline Armor. In Skyrim, I was more interested in marrying a werewolf and settling down in one of the largest cities than in defeating the dragons.
In Pokemon, I've largely abandoned competitive battling, preferring instead to focus on fulfilling personal goals like collecting every one of the legendary monsters. My biggest hope for Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield is that it will bring back challenging PvE content like Pokemon Black 2 and Pokemon White 2's spectacular Pokemon World Tournament, which pits you against gym leaders and champions from every region.
My most recent fixation has been on Stardew Valley, which saw me spend some 80 hours on building relationships with the local townsfolk, optimizing my farm, and completing various collections. It's a game that encourages you to move at your own leisurely pace, but it's also a completionist's nightmare. While I ultimately fulfilled my personal goal of getting married to Abigail, reaching level 25 of the Skull Cavern, and building out my farm, I probably could have been put another 50 hours or more into unlocking the content I missed.
This sort of long-lasting solo content doesn't get talked about as much as story-driven experiences like God of War, but it's the sort of gameplay that I find the most enticing these days. As far as I'm concerned, story is basically optional as long as I have some sort of investment in the world at large. If I cared about story, I wouldn't be playing Fire Emblem Heroes.
It needn't strictly be an open-world RPG, either. MLB The Show 19 has some great single-player modes this year, my favorite being March to October—a challenge mode in which storylines and objectives rise organically depending on whether you win or lose. Similarly, there's a completionist side to my personality that reacts well to finishing, say, every challenge in Wargroove's Puzzle Mode. I find Sekiro attractive simply because it's very hard, making the challenge of climbing to the top of the proverbial mountain its own reward.
It's these sort of experiences that take up the bulk of my attention of late. While not all of them are what I would call "competitive," they do satisfy a similar need. Both are about building toward something greater than completing a rote set of challenges and watching the credits roll. They're about setting my own objectives, and then completing them... or not. Sometimes there's a point where I realize that I've received all the enjoyment I'm going to get from a game, and then I put down the controller and move on. Where Madden gave me the joy of defeating 31 other players and winning the Super Bowl, Stardew Valley gave me the joy of building the ultimate brewery. Both were satisfying accomplishments on their own, even if only one involved defeating actual people.
I haven't completely retired from competitive gaming of course. I still play a fair amount of FIFA, if only because there are times when I just need to switch off and play some online soccer. I may break out Hearthstone again at some point, and I may tinker with a competitive team on Pokemon Showdown. But the hell of getting older is that you simply stop having the time needed to truly master a competitive game. For every hour I have to invest in a game like Apex Legends, it seems like everyone else has 50. And these days, I'd rather use my precious gaming time to play how I want to play.
So when it comes time to decide what to play next, I will be more apt to pick up a game like Subnautica than Call of Duty. I may not play online as much anymore, but I still know exactly what I want out of my gaming experience.
Major Game Releases This Week: April 15 to April 19
Here are the major releases for the week of April 15 to April 19. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.
- Dreams Early Access [April 16, PS4]: Dreams hits early access on Tuesday, giving everyone a chance to try out Media Molecule's expansive new world-builder. It will include all of the creation tools, tutorials, and community features, as well as the ability to create and share whatever you want. Even better, all creations carry over to the full game. Check out our hands-on preview here.
- Anno 1800 [April 16, PC]: The seventh game in the Anno series returns to the franchise's historical setting. If you haven't heard of it, Anno is a real-time city-builder that focuses on tourism, ocean combat, and other simulation elements. This entry will be set at beginning of the Industrial Age, with the main goal being to balance a city's beauty against profitability. Should be great for anyone between Paradox sims who are looking for a change of pace.
- Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD [April 16, Switch, Xbox One]: Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD was remastered quite a long time ago for PS3, PS4, and Vita, but this marks its first appearance on Switch and Xbox One. It joins Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 9, with Final Fantasy 12 set to come at the end of the month. I will leave you with this hot take: Final Fantasy X-2 is so much better than Final Fantasy X.
- Cuphead [April 18, Switch]: This week inaugurates the peculiar new partnership between Microsoft and Nintendo, which begins with the release of Cuphead on Switch. The Xbox One Live tools won't be patched in until a later date, but it's still a brave new world for Switch owners. In the shorter term, Cuphead's tribute to the art of Fleischer Studios ought to look incredible on the Switch's handheld screen.
- Katana Zero [April 18, Switch, PC ]: Askiisoft's gorgeous new 2D action platformer arrives on Switch this week. We covered it way back in 2015, and we recently called it one of the best indie games of PAX South 2019. Needless to say, it'll probably be worth picking up when it lands on Friday.
This Week's News and Notes
- I have returned from my journey abroad to find that the site thankfully hasn't burned down (I jest, I know that Tom and Mike run a tight ship). We're all back in the office for the first time in what seems like ages, so it's all systems go until E3.
- While I was gone, Matt concluded his investigation into a simple question that actually became fairly frustrating to answer: How much has the Joy-Con improved since launch? Joy-Con remains an ongoing issue for Switch, and maybe one that isn't discussed enough amid its continued success.
- In the meantime, Mike spent more than 3000 words recounting EA's struggles with the Frostbite Engine. EA's problems with integrating the engine go back at least five years, so there's a lot to cover.
- On a lighter note, I've been playing a lot of Super Robot Wars T lately, and Bandai Namco really did a great job with Cowboy Bebop. Check it out.
- It's looking like Microsoft will announce the "all-digital" Xbox One S tomorrow, with a price point reportedly set at $250. With the Xbox One S Anthem bundle retailing for the same price on Amazon, it's honestly hard to see the appeal of a less capable console. But with Microsoft being all in on a cloud-based future, I suppose its only laying the groundwork for the next generation of consoles.
- In the meantime, Capcom is apparently going to announce a plug-and-play arcade stick loaded with classic arcade games tomorrow. Sounds like a delightful twist on the mini-console concept, especially if it features the likes of Third Strike and Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Personally, I just want an excuse to play the arcade version of 1942 again.
- And finally, with the first trailer of Fallen Order being well-received, it appears that 2019 may end up being The Year of Respawn. There's still plenty of time to screw it up, but Respawn hasn't really put a foot wrong yet. All signs point to Fallen Order being the first good EA Star Wars game, which ought to be an immense relief for EA and Disney alike (but mostly EA).
- Axe of the Blood God: This week, we have a deep and serious discussion about a rumored remake for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Persona 5 before we talk at length about Final Fantasy 7 on the Switch and the related music bug. Then our conversation smoooothly segues into the challenges of reviewing lengthy games like RPGs. Enjoy, and don't trust any dolphin that offers to let you jump off its stupid pointed face. Subscribe here